The crux of the “Blue debate” seems to lie on whether or not Cäsar von Gaiberg, the progenitor of the Blue Weimaraner was a cross-bred dog or not. There are three basic theories on how the Blue gene came into being in the Weimaraner: “The Doberman Cross Theory,” “Blues Always Existed Theory,” and “The Genetic Mutation Theory.”
The Genetic Mutation Theory
The renown breeder Homer Carr suggests in his article on the Blue Weimaraner – PDF that the blue color is merely the result of a genetic mutation. He states, “So far as is known, this blue mutation has occurred only twice in the last quarter of a century, both times in Europe. In Austria, a single blue puppy appeared in the 1940’s in a litter of silver gray parents owned by Robert Pattay, past president of the Austrian Weimaraner Club.“ The second is Cäsar von Gaiberg.
“Natural mutation rates are from 10-4 (one in ten thousand) to 10-8 (one in a hundred million)” (qtd. in Isabell 77); in other words, they are rare. However, no matter how rare, they occur enough that today we have over 150 different breed of dogs. The founders of each of these breeds took advantage of mutations by propagating them to create their desired type of dog, from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane and everything in between (The Dog Genome Project). Within many of these different breeds, we also have varieties caused by the same forces of natural mutation. Certainly it is entirely possible then that the Blue Weimaraner is a variety, caused by a mutation.
Blues Always Existed Theory
Still, many have maintained that Blues were always present in Germany, and that the future problems faced in the United States with Cäsar von Gaiberg were based on semantic differences. We know that from a genetic standpoint, the color we understand as “silver” or “gray” is actually a dilute chocolate or liver; whereas purely from a color standpoint it can be argued that Weimaraner “blue” is what most would call “gray.” With shades of blue possibly being so light as to look silver, it is entirely possible that a light blue, or a very dilute blue, may appear gray. (Please see Weimaraner Coat Color Genetics for further explanation and to see a photo of a very light Blue Weimaraner that may be mistaken for a Gray.)
To complicate matters further, Alexander and Isabell inform us in Weimaraner Ways that“… Germans also used the term [blues] synonymously with mouse-gray” (52). In his book The Weimaraner, Scott blames poor translation for the word “blue” to have appeared in the original 1944 standard as an acceptable color (109) which seems to prove the point that these two terms were used interchangeably as indicated in Weimaraner Ways.
Further, Captain Holt maintains throughout his interview with the WCA – PDF that mouse-gray is the same color as blue. Holt also asserts that there were other dogs of the same color as Cäsar and the color was not considered aberrant by the Germans because they were considered mouse-gray and within the standard.
Dr. Werner Petri’s Der Weimaraner Vorstehhund, in documenting the breed’s origins, mentioned several times that there was controversy over the desired color of the dogs. “Even at that time (1899), agreement could not be reached about either description of colour or desired colour” (Petri 7) and “There are silver-gray and mousey-gray Weimaraners…and there is heated argument between opponents” (qtd. in Petri 8).
Considering color in his chapter about the breed’s conformation characteristics Petri writes:
“What distinguishes the Weimaraner immediately from other comparable breeds is his gray colour. It is often difficult to decide whether a dog is silver-gray, deer-gray or mousy-gray and this depends on the lighting, background, etc. Here, quite often the wish is the father of colour determination. As it is just about impossible to define clearly the above mentioned colours, it might be better to leave them out entirely in the future. However, in any case the colour of the dog must be without any doubt gray!”
The confounding flip side to this is that, despite the German’s usage of the two terms, we do not see Blue Weimaraners in Germany today. Culling doesn’t address this because if Blues were all culled then how did Tell inherit the color? Could it be that only the most dilute Blues “passed” as Grays and therefore kept producing Blues, and only the darker ones were culled? This would mean that there would be dilute Blues in Germany today, but as far as this author knows, even very dilute Blues do not exist in Germany.
The Doberman Cross Theory
Since there are black Dobermans, it is certainly possible that the dominant black color could have been inherited by Tell, along with the dilute factor from both the Doberman and Weimaraner, creating the blue color. (See Weimaraner Coat Color Genetics to read about how the coat color is inherited.) The Doberman standard calls for dark eyes. Isabell, in Weimaraner Ways, notes that Paul Barry, the WCA President in 1950, “considered Tell’s eyes darker than average but not as dark as some he had seen. He observed that Tell’s eyes dilated to an unusual degree, which gave the impression that his eyes were darker than they really were” (52). As for the short ears, the Doberman’s natural ear is shorter than the Weimaraner’s ear; however it is well accepted that the Weimaraner in its development were cross-bred to Pointers which could also account for the shorter ear, especially since Kullmer himself when asked about Tell’s short ears “suggested [it] was the result of inbreeding, adding that all Weimaraners were inbred because less than a dozen German Weimaraners had survived World War I.” (Alexander and Isabell 52).
Some may argue that the Doberman markings we see on some of today’s Weims on occasion came from the alleged Doberman cross-breeding that produced Cäsar, but this argument can easily be refuted. According to Denlinger, the German Standard ratified in Frankfurt in 1935 states “…Neither is the reddish-yellow shade on the head and legs, which nowadays occurs seldom, to be regarded as a fault; however a Weimaraner with reddish yellow coloring should not receive more than a “good” when tested for his shape. If outstanding for hunting purposes he should not be excluded from breeding.” (62). This standard was written more than 20 years before Cäsar von Gaiberg was born, and obviously the Doberman markings were occurring regularly enough to be mentioned in the standard. The Doberman markings most likely come from the Hound blood used when the breed was developed.
Elizabeth Wood contends the that Doberman cross theory is not only unsubstantiated but also “genetically unsound” because if Tell were a Doberman cross, he would carry the recessive ‘at’ gene which causes the tan markings, and this would mean that “his line-bred offspring would have exhibited a much higher than average occurrence of tan-points.” (Wood). She continues by telling us that this has not happened with his descendants (Wood, footnote 16). In fact, Tell produced well; many of his offspring were champions and he was a top producing sire. His get constituted breeding stock for some of the most influential kennels of today. It is difficult to believe that a mongrel would produce so well, particularly in passing on the hunting qualities for which he was so well-known. Homer Carr did not care for the blue coat color but used Cäsar for his conformation and for his “intense natural hunting instinct which were badly needed to correct or eliminate serious faults widely prevalent in our American Weimaraners” (Carr).
All Three Theories can be Argued, BUT…
Until 2010, we were only able to argue theory. A paper titled “Tracing the origin of ‘blue Weimaraner’ dogs by molecular genetics” published in the Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics basically showed us that a mutation was extremely unlikely (one in one trillion). Further it showed that a cross-breeding was much more likely. See the summary of the article here.
In the end, does it really matter? The blue coat can be eliminated in one generation, and even if Tell were cross-bred, a dozen generations later, the point is moot; the percentage of cross-bred blood is so minuscule that Blues would still considered purebred after so many generations. Tell is the progenitor of the Blue Weimaraner in the United States, and his genes are behind 99% of Weimaraners around the world — regardless of color. And while he will forever be in the Weimaraner history books due to the coat color controversy, he should also be respected for what he contributed to the Weimaraner breed as a whole in the United States.